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Western Press Review: Europe's Arms Deals With Iraq, U.S.-Iran Cooperation, And Other Topics

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis in the Western press today and over the weekend takes a look at human rights issues in the war on terror, Eastern Europe's arms trade with Iraq, Austria's parliamentary elections, U.S.-Iranian relations, and NATO's new global role as an alliance of 26 nations, among other topics.


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," staff writers Ian Traynor and Nicholas Wood look into reports that several East European nations -- using Yugoslavia as a hub -- are involved in arms trading with Iraq.

The writers say despite the claims of Yugoslav officials that they knew nothing of this trade, documents seen by the paper indicate that the administration of President Vojislav Kostunica "was warned in January by its Foreign Ministry of the damage being done by its trading with Iraq. The Kostunica cabinet then voted to continue with the clandestine deals."

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is under fire from allegations that he approved the sale of a sophisticated Kolchuga air-defense system to Baghdad. Bulgaria admitted last week that a plant in Turgovishte had been concluding millions of dollars' worth of business with both Iraq and Syria. The writers say Belarus has also been supplying Baghdad with expertise and materials that "can be adapted for military use."

But they say while several East European countries "are or have been engaged in arms trading with Iraq, it is Yugoslavia that has become the focus of Western anger for two main reasons." First, Belgrade's experience with the U.S. air campaign in the 1999 Kosovo war "is of particular interest to Iraq." Moreover, its "sophisticated smuggling networks," used "to beat UN sanctions during the 1990s, provides the infrastructure for getting the goods to Baghdad."


In the "International Herald Tribune," David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations discusses many of the goals shared by the United States and Iran regarding Iraq. Both nations have an interest in disarming and, perhaps, removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. They also share an interest in "managing Iraq after a regime change," and "are adamant about preserving Iraq's territorial integrity. Both are committed to contain vigilantism and revenge taking that might destabilize the country. And both want to ensure that Iraq's ethnic and religious [groups] secure their political and cultural rights in a post-Saddam Iraq."

Moreover, says Phillips, Iran could assist a U.S.-led campaign by providing airspace and allowing search-and-rescue missions from its territory. "If Iraq uses chemical agents against U.S. ground forces, Americans may well end up in Iranian hospitals, which are [staffed] by medical personnel experienced in treating victims of chemical weapons" from Iran's own war with Iraq.

Phillips suggests that under the circumstances, Iran and the United States should improve their cooperation on several fronts. The U.S. "could stop obstructing Iran's application to join the World Trade Organization," he suggests. By "requiring standards of openness and transparency, Tehran's candidacy will promote moderation in Iran."

Hard-liners on both sides are wary, and the Iranian government still has much to do "to fulfill its promise of prosperity and greater political and social freedoms." But Phillips says, "reform is the inevitable next stage in Iran's evolution."


Ulrich Glauber in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" says that for the first time in the postwar era, Austria has held genuine pluralistic elections. "After decades in which political negotiations took place behind the scenes, after 13 years of coalitions between the Social Democrats and the People's Party, the citizens had the feeling there was no other alternative." Glauber says that is why, in October 1999, in despair, Austrians chose the nationalists in a fit of protest, and thus handed the Freedom Party of Joerg Haider an unprecedented victory. But now, "they have infused new life into rigid party politics."

The People's Party scored 42 percent, putting it well ahead of Austria's other main party, the Social Democratic Party, which won 37 percent. The right-wing Freedom Party suffered heavy losses, winning only 10 percent.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has succeeded in rousing his People's Party from its distress, says the commentary. He exploited an auspicious situation and guided the conservatives to an outcome that can be described as "a political earthquake" -- whereby Schuessel, as the victor, now has a chance to alone decide on whom to chose as a coalition partner.


In the "Financial Times," Phillip Stephens says that for all the U.S. rhetoric regarding the coalition of so-called "freedom-loving nations" in the war on terrorism, geography has made several repressive regimes "America's vital allies."

Stephens remarks that "freedom-loving" is a phrase that U.S. President George W. Bush uses often to describe those joining the U.S. in its campaign against terrorism. This phrase, says Stephens, "provides the moral context for the war." Others in his administration are even more explicit in saying that a U.S. goal is to promote and spread democracy throughout the Middle East and other regions of the globe.

Stephens says, however, that the U.S.'s Central Asian allies Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are "anything but freedom-loving." He says, "the adjectives that best describe them are 'repressive,' 'criminalized,' and 'impoverished.' [Liberty] and democracy are not concepts that sit easily with leaders such as Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov."

Stephens says that considerations such as liberty and democracy are a mere "detail." He writes, "America needs the military bases and the overflight rights." Certainly Europeans should not be uncomfortable about such double standards and "short-term compromises," he says wryly, for Europe invented "realpolitik." Moreover, he asks, "[didn't] both Europe and the U.S. make the ultimate pact with the devil by signing up with [authoritarian former Russian leader Josef] Stalin during World War II?"


In a contribution to "The Boston Globe," John Shattuck of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation says in the age of terrorism, there is a corresponding "profound interest in defending human rights." Throughout the 1990s, he says, "cynical rulers and warlords" perpetrated violence in Somalia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Haiti, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. These nations, he says, were the "last decade's killing fields and the breeding grounds of this decade's terrorism."

Five lessons must be drawn from the past decade, he says. First, better tools for prevention and warning are needed. Some atrocities might have been prevented if the international community acted earlier, or if repressive leaders knew they would pay a heavy price for their actions. Secondly, the international community needs a better understanding of how to effectively intervene. Third, it must be remembered that there can be "no peace without justice." He writes, "Until the criminal leaders who instigated genocide are held accountable for what they did, the cycle of violence will continue." Fourth, nations will need sustained help to rebuild. Finally, he says, democratic countries must help those living under tyranny, because "repression breeds human rights abuse, and human rights abuse breeds terror." Shattuck concludes, "If in the name of fighting terror we abandon the struggle for human rights, [in] the long run we are only likely to have more terror."


Martin van Creveld in "Die Welt" looks at the possible repercussions on Israel, should there be a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. As the United States is increasing its pressure on Iraq, he says Israel is the most vulnerable country in the region, for two reasons.

First, an American attack on Iraq could lead directly to an Iraqi attack on Israel just as in the Gulf War 10 years ago, when Iraq fired rockets at Israel causing several deaths and considerable damage.

Secondly, however, the casualties could be much higher, as Saddam Hussein will have nothing more to lose and might add biological warheads to his rockets. As a defense, Israel has set up the first antirocket system in the world, which journalists were able to view recently. Unfortunately, this shield covers only part of Israel and, moreover, has not been tested in genuine battlefield conditions.

Although the U.S. is pressuring Israel, as in 1991, not to retaliate to a possible Iraqi attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assures his people Israel will respond to Iraqi aggression. Should Iraq resort to chemical or biological warfare, Israel would not hesitate to respond with massive retribution. But Baghdad, says van Creveld, is also aware of this likelihood.


In France's daily "Le Monde," Alain Frachon says in the next few months, the profile of the Middle East will have changed. In two of the most important nations in the region, Iran and Iraq, their current models will end in failure, and lead to a period of transition.

In Iran, on one side, there is the twice-elected reformist President Mohammad Khatami and his supporters in parliament. They believe that political legitimacy derives from a democratic, popular vote. Yet they still uphold Islam as one of the pillars of their society -- and would like to prove that it is able to be integrated with democracy. Islam remains part of their national identity, but not the only one. Iran's reformists are modern, educated, and young. On the other hand, the clerical mullahs and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini agree to elections, but would like power to remain concentrated in their own hands. Frachon says they agree to "formal" democracy, but not in practice.

As for Iraq, Frachon says President Saddam Hussein's regime is the opposite of the enlightened and modernizing regime that was promised in the 1970s. His power rests on a tribal, clannish model today. The Iraqi model of a secular state in the Middle East seems doomed, says Frachon, by either the restrictions that will be imposed on it by UN weapons inspectors or by a U.S. intervention. The hope for an Islamic-democratic state model now comes from Turkey, he says.


Turning to NATO, syndicated columnist William Pfaff, writing in the "International Herald Tribune," draws a distinction between NATO and the European Union. In his comment, entitled "NATO is Past, EU is Future," Pfaff says that "NATO exists to solve security problems." The European Union, in contrast, "rewards countries for solving their own problems."

The Balkans, he says, are an example of this. "NATO stopped a war in Bosnia and started one in Kosovo to end Serbian persecution of Albanian Kosovars." But the problem solving in the region is being taken care of by other organizations, including the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU, and others.

Pfaff writes: "Europe wants peaceful ethnic coexistence within existing Balkan frontiers. The aim is to achieve a level of ethnic tolerance and cooperation" as a prerequisite to eventual EU membership.

Pfaff goes on to say that the mandate of the EU is "the political transformation of European society." NATO, for its part, "promises military security." At last week's NATO summit in Prague, seven new members were invited to join the alliance who, Pfaff says, "bring little to NATO." The alliance "would like them to fill 'niches' in its military program, [but] NATO is not going to war with anyone." He describes the alliance as "a toolbox from which units useful for given jobs can be plucked -- military policemen for Kosovo, chemical-defense units for the Gulf and so on." NATO was a great success in the past, says Pfaff. But the "EU is the future."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)